Though field size at Fair Grounds racetrack in New Orleans is up, on-track and total handle are down from last year. After the first 23 days of the meet, on-track handle is down 4.7%, and total handle has dipped 3.5% from the 2002-2003 meet. Field size, meanwhile, is up significantly from 8.51 to 9.12.
Track officials believe the weather may have something to do with the numbers. A steady downpour produced three inches of rain on opening day (Nov. 27), traditionally one of the biggest betting days of the year in New Orleans. The next event, which typically brings high expectations, is Louisiana Champions Day (Dec. 13). Heavy rain and fog hit the area a few hours before first post and continued throughout the card.
On Jan. 4, football playoff games were blamed for a hit in business.
"There were two very interesting professional football playoff games that day," said Fair Grounds owner and general manager Bryan Krantz, "plus there was such a large focus from the local LSU fans for a potential national championship that if they didn't go to the game, they were glued to their television sets or down in the French Quarter partying. It was like a mini Mardi Gras. It was hard for the track to compete with that kind of excitement."
Krantz said even though numbers are down, "it is within our tolerance. The long-range downward trend has leveled off, and we are looking toward better days ahead. Unless the negative trends surprise us and get worse, we are going to be able to hold our purse schedule."
Krantz said larger fields and the fact Fair Grounds expects more exposure in the California simulcasting arena bode well for the future. The meet runs through March 28.